Saturday, January 31, 2004

One Year Ago,...


...February 1, 2003. I recall hearing on the car radio the first report that the Shuttle Columbia had lost communication and was 'overdue' for its planned landing. I immediately felt a pit in my stomach. Since the Shuttle is a gliding vehicle, I knew that 'overdue' meant that it would not land, that this would be another grim day like when the Challenger went down seventeen years earlier. Getting home an hour later, the continuous replay of that terrible fireball in the Texas morning sky was underway.

A year has passed, with much soul searching within NASA and the whole space community. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) concluded in August that lapses in a flawed 'NASA culture' played a primary role in allowing the accident to happen.

At the same time, the CAIB held the nation responsible for not providing NASA with a clear vision toward which to direct its efforts. By then, space vision and policy were quietly being developed by the White House and Congress, which led to President Bush's announcement on January 14 of a new vision for exploration of the Moon and beyond.

Let's honor the memory of the Columbia Seven by seeing that this vision is carried out and is implemented in a way that truly opens space as a frontier for humanity

President Bush said some memorable words when he addressed the nation that afternoon:

"In the skies today we saw destruction and tragedy. Yet farther than we can see there is comfort and hope. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, "Lift your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these? He who brings out the starry hosts one by one and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing."

The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth; yet we can pray that all are safely home."

At the memorial service in Houston three days later, he described the calling to carry on the work of exploring space:

"This cause of exploration and discovery is not an option we choose; it is a desire written in the human heart."

Friday, January 30, 2004

Speaking Truth to Power (Boston Style)
The leadership of the Catholic Church in America is starting to find its voice and take a stand on Catholic politicians who profess a 'prochoice' (pro-abortion) position. This could prove especially awkward for the emerging Democratic frontrunner for president.

It should be understood that this stand is not intended to condemn a public official. It is meant to challenge him or her to question their position on such a fundamental moral question as the direct killing of innocent human lives, and also to educate the public on the seriousness of the Church's position on this matter.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Senate Committee Looks at NASA's Future
The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on Wednesday to look at the future of NASA. Administrator Sean O'Keefe testified first, followed by a panel which included provocative testimony by Rick Tumlinson of the Space Frontier Foundation. The Committee page with links to the witness' testimony is here.
Day of Remenbrance
NASA today took time to remember the anniversaries of the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia tragedies, all three of which fall this week. Administrator Sean O'Keefe said that the time of remembrance should also be a time of rededication to avoid the kind of lapses that led to the fatal accidents.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

News from the 'Shire
New Hampshire Primary results: Kerry wins, Dean second, followed by Clark, Edwards & Lieberman.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Several Interesting Articles
Keith Cowing argues for considering other options to save the Hubble Space Telecope from a premature end.

Also, four new articles at The Space Review today. Among them, Phil Smith argues that President Bush's new initiative is the wrong approach. This article really does lay out a broad vision of the human future of developing and settling space, largely through the private sector. I wouldn't necessarily agree that the Bush plan precludes this vision, only that the plan, broadly defined so far, only addresses NASA's role in cutting edge exploration. What is needed is a complementary plan to involve the private sector and enable it to follow the explorers outward.

Jeff Foust looks at the Near Earth Asteroids as a third option. What I noticed about W's address, is that he only laid out a schedule as far as establishing a presence on the Moon with related infrastructure by 2020. Beyond that, the President spoke of "human missions to Mars and to worlds beyond", without providing a timeline. Whether knowingly or not, he leaves the door open for the nation to head to the asteroids ahead of Mars if the opportunity, or especially the threat, is deemed more important at that time.
Missing the Big Story
If 100,000, perhaps 200,000 people, especially a largely young crowd, marched through the streets of Washington to address a serious public issue, the major media organizations would surely provide abundant coverage and analysis, right? Well, in case you missed it last week, check out here and here for an explanation.
No Work Today
My day job, anyway. Did some real work this morning, shoveling snow. Then spent some time catching up on web articles.

Even with the New Hampshire Primary tomorrow, I suspect the most watched analyst around here the past 24 hours was not a political pundit, but the Weather Channel's winter storm expert, Paul Kocin.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

One Giant Leap for my Blog

This image shows one of the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity's first breathtaking views of the martian landscape after its successful landing at Meridiani Planum on Mars. JPL press Release

This is an experiment to show that I can display a picture on my blog. The catch is that I can't post pictures directly on to my blog, since I'm using the free version of Blogger. This image will remain only as long as JPL maintains the link to this picture at the URL I've posted. (NASA imagery is public domain.)
Opportunity Bounce
Opportunity has landed, bounced and is rolling to a stop while maintaining communication. CA Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former VP Al Gore and a couple of congressmen are in the control room congratulating the team.

Indication of '+Y Petal Down', still modulating signal could indicate continued rolling.

Apparently, vehicle is now stationary, laying sideways with its signal to Earth 'multipathing', giving the appearance of continued rolling. Sideways position is not a problem. When petals open, the vehicle will be uprighted.

Opportunity is set to explore the Meridiani Planum region of Mars, rich in the mineral hematite, a strong indicator of the presence of water at some point in the region's history. For ongoing updates on Opportunity's post-landing activities and Spirit's recovery activities, go to the JPL project web site.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Mars Exploration Update
Controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) are troubleshooting the serious operational anomalies affecting the Spirit rover, while also preparing for its sister ship Opportunity to arrive on the other side of the planet late Saturday. Follow the latest developments at JPL's project web site.

Meanwhile, the European Space Agency reports that its Mars Express orbiter has confirmed the presence of water ice in the south polar cap of Mars.
Still Trying to Party like It's 1992
Joel Rosenberg writes that public attitudes on abortion are changing, but the Democratic presidential candidates just don't seem to get it.
Conservatives should know better...
...than to uncritically accept supposed 'facts' sensationalized in the Old Media. However, some conservatives have criticized President Bush's space initiative as fiscally irresponsible, based on the assumption that it would be a 'trillion dollar' effort. The criticism might be valid if that figure were true, but Jim Oberg explains that it would not be nearly that costly.

Citizens of any political persuasion can support making the effort more affordable with a greater payoff by advocating for a greater involvement of the private sector so that it can follow the explorers outward.
A Part of Our Childhood
Bob Keeshan, aka Captain Kangaroo, has passed away at age 76. His show started in 1955, the year I was born.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Speaking Truth to Power
This was my eighth March for Life, but I am still awed by the power of meeting so many nice people who've taken the time and effort to come from many places to stand for life in the nation's capital.

The memorable events began last night with the packed, standing-room-only National Vigil Mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. This morning started on Capitol Hill where I expressed my point of view to Senators Mikulski & Sarbanes (via filling out a form in their office lobbies). In the same Hart Senate Office Building, I then heard one of the most stirring prolife addresses ever, delivered by Father Frank Pavone. (Hopefully, a transcript or, better yet, a video will be available soon.)

The March itself was, as always, such a powerful experience. Near the end of the March, as Constitution Ave. ascends Capitol Hill, looking back at the sight of a sea of people and banners stretching many blocks distant gives a real sense of the power of this movement.

After attending a couple of post-March receptions, at 6 PM I started back toward Union Station to catch the Metro, but had one more stop. In front of the Supreme Court were two groups. One was a pro-abortion group chanting the same old tired slogans ("Not the Church, not the state, blah, blah, blah, blah!") At the other end of the plaza, an event called Silent No More, where women described the searing experiences of past abortions, and the healing and forgiveness they've felt in coming to terms with them. One group still in denial, the other 'silent no more'.

A long day, where the inspiration more than makes up for the tired legs and feet. I am quite hopeful about the future.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Why We March

This Thursday, January 22, marks the 31st anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court decisions which imposed abortion-on-demand in the United States. Once again, concerned citizens will gather for the annual March for Life, which in recent years has usually drawn more than 100,000 participants. Now, why do so many people consider it so important to take time on a weekday to come to Washington, DC at the coldest time of the year to make their voice heard on this matter?

Before I go on any further, I need to say a couple of things. First, nothing in this article is meant to condemn anyone who has had an abortion or has been involved in abortion in some way. Far from condemning those with an abortion in their past, the people in the prolife movement are about healing and forgiveness, and want it to be clear that there is hope after abortion. Post-abortion counseling can be found through many church denominations and pregnancy counseling centers.

And second, while the prolife movement consists largely of people with strong religious convictions who feel called by God to defend the defenseless, that doesn’t make the protection of human life a narrow, religious issue. The facts that the defenseless exist and that they deserve protection in the human family can be persuasively advocated by non-religiously reasoned arguments.

First, let’s start with a little scientific background (from the Science for Unborn Human Life website) about how each of us began our lives as unique human beings. A new human being is conceived when a sperm fertilizes an egg. The sperm has 23 chromosomes and so does the egg. But the fertilized egg has 46, half from each parent, and is genetically unique. These 46 chromosomes, which are fixed at conception, establish the child's sex and are a blueprint for how it will develop, both during pregnancy and after birth.

Blood vessels start to form very early, about 13-18 days after fertilization. Then, on about the 20th day - nearly the end of the third week - the foundation of the brain, the spinal cord, and the entire nervous system is established. The heart begins to beat on about the 22nd day after conception, circulating blood throughout the child. The arms begin to form on about day 26, followed by the beginnings of the legs on day 28, the same day that the mouth opens for the first time.

Both the eyes and ears are developing rapidly during the seventh week after conception. At this time, the thumbs, neck, heels of the feet and all of the fingers are also present. Taste buds begin to form during the eighth week after conception. All parts of the limbs are apparent at this time. In addition, the fingers and toes have lengthened and are completely separated.

By the end of the eighth week the overwhelming majority (several thousand) of the body's organs, structures and systems have already begun to develop. Few, if any, new structures begin to form after this time. During the remainder of the pregnancy, development consists mainly of growth and maturation of the parts of the body that are already present.

Isolated arm, leg and backward head movements begin at about 7 to 10 weeks after conception. During the ninth week, a regular pattern of breathing movements is observed, with a median frequency of about 30 breaths each hour.

These are just the highlights of how you developed during the first 2-3 months of your life. Now consider that a majority of abortions are performed during the tenth to twelfth week of gestation. Some are performed much later in the pregnancy, when the child has grown larger and any unbiased observer would recognize a baby when they see one.

So why if the evidence so clearly indicates that a unique human life begins at conception, how did the deliberate and violent destruction of that life come to be imposed as a ‘constitutional right’? Time does not permit describing the whole history of abortion or the intertwining influences of the eugenics and population control movements. Let’s start with the socially turbulent late sixties when a growing pro-abortion movement subversively exploited the legitimate aspirations of women for greater rights and participation in society.

Dr. Bernard Nathanson, former abortionist and co-founder of the pro-abortion group NARAL, has since changed his mind and heart and is now a leading prolife advocate. He points out the disinformation at the heart of the pro-abortion campaign.

- “The statistics that we gave to the American public about illegal abortions annually; the statistics we fabricated regarding the number of women dying from illegal abortions annually; all of these matters were pure fabrication and still persist to this very day.”

- “We spoke of 5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year. I confess that I knew the figures were totally false. It was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics?”

- “We in NARAL were in the business of coining slogans principally for the media . . . we scattered catchy slogans for them . . . to use . . . in their stories. Slogans like “reproductive rights,” “freedom of choice,” “pro-choice.” For many years we’ve known them to be hollow and meaningless. They’re just catchy and, essentially, without substance.”

The movement made rapid progress. California, New York and a few other states passed ‘liberalized’ abortion laws (though some other states rejected them). But what embedded abortion in American law were two Supreme Court cases, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, pronounced on January 22, 1973. The combined effect of the two decisions was to effectively impose abortion-on-demand throughout the nine months of pregnancy. Since that time, over forty million human beings have been exterminated by abortion in the United States.

Aside from the grave issue that was decided, the finding that abortion is part of a constitutional ‘right of privacy’ is considered an overreach of judicial power even by some legal scholars who describe themselves as ‘prochoice’. The ‘reasoning’ was based on ‘penumbras’ the justices claim to have seen in the constitution.

Did you know that the two plaintiffs in the Roe and Doe cases, Norma McCorvey and Sandra Cano, have filed affidavits to the effect that they were manipulated into their roles and that the decisions should be overturned? You would think that this development would be considered unprecedented in Supreme Court history, but I guess Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, the New York Times, etc. forgot to inform you.

One fact that is becoming evident that abortion-on-demand is not such a great thing for women. Abortion has left many women emotionally and sometimes physically scarred. Campaigns such as Silent No More and Women Deserve Better are tapping into this hidden anguish.

Also evident is the effect on our society, with conflicting attitudes on how we treat not only the unborn, but also the sick, disabled and elderly. Abortion has torn marriages and families apart, and led to a hardened and increasingly violent culture.

So, we have had for the past thirty years, a culture that in some ways has grown cynical, forgoing the promise of a hopeful future for instant gratification, or more often, the resignation to unimaginative “solutions” that pit mother against child or people against the planet. One is reminded of a quote from the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats:

“The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere a ceremony of innocence was drowned.”

These Supreme Court abortion decisions were assumed to have ‘settled’ the issue in our society. Yet much to the consternation of the pro-abortion establishment, the movement of concerned citizens to protect life has only grown in strength over the past thirty years. The prolife movement has pursued multiple paths: educating the public, lobbying and litigating for change, participating in politics, and especially reaching out to help women with unplanned pregnancies.

Particularly significant is that the change in public attitudes on abortion is most striking among young people (who’ve lost peers they’ve never met). This is manifested in polling results and an upsurge of prolife activism among college students, much to the consternation of their professors and, in some cases, their parents. Sort of adds a new twist to some lyrics from the sixties by Buffalo Springfield:

“Young people speaking their minds, Getting so much resistance from behind.”

So the buses are starting to roll, as thousands from distant states once again journey to Washington, where many will gather in prayer the night before or the morning of the March. Then we will rally and march, knowing that those we are trying to defend would some day defend our nation, write great literature, cure disease, compose stirring music, and explore and begin to settle the Solar System.

But more than for their potential accomplishments, we speak out for them simply because of the inherent dignity of each of their lives. In so doing we are responding to a great calling as individuals and as a civilization. And we’ll continue to speak and march and work and pray, confident in the hope that, one of these years, we won’t face the cold winds. Instead, we’ll gather on a warm spring day to celebrate the inclusion of the youngest in the human family within the protection of the law.
"A Time Set Apart"
President gave the State of the Union message. Some highlights included continuing the War on Terror, Patriot Act, making tax cuts permanent, several health care related items and defense of marriage, by constitutional amendment if necessary.

Dems Pelosi & Daschle gave their response. Mostly criticizing W's policies on Iraq, taxes and health care.

Monday, January 19, 2004

The results are in...
...from Iowa. Kerry and Edwards are the big winners. Third place Dean is defiant. Fourth place Gephardt bowing out. Of course, I'm sticking with the incumbent.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Just this evening saw the LOTR finale, The Return of the King, at the Uptown in DC.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

The Inside Story of President Bush's Space Initiative
All three parts of the report by Frank Sietzen Jr. and Keith Cowing are now online, so I'll provide the links here for Part One, Part Two and Part Three.

Apogee Books will publish a book this summer which will further expand on these reports titled New Moon Rising: The Making of George W. Bush's Space Vision and the Remaking of NASA. Should make for quite interesting reading.

Friday, January 16, 2004

W hits another homer this week.
President Bush has made a recess appointment of Charles Pickering to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Watch for squirming Democrats and a howling and shrieking pro-abortion lobby.
Hubble Servicing Cancelled
NASA announced today that there would be no more servicing missions to the Hubble Space Telescope. The decision was made by NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe and was based on the additional post-Columbia safety provisions that would have to be made for Hubble servicing, which would take place in a different orbit than the International Space Station. The Hubble telescope will probably remain operational for several more years, depending on the health of the vehicle's gyroscopes and batteries. Flight software modifications are being developed to enable limited science observations to be conducted with as few as two functioning gyros.
One year ago today,... appeared to be a perfect launch of the STS-107 Columbia mission. Only the engineers reviewing the post-launch videos had any clue that something might have gone wrong...

Thursday, January 15, 2004

The Bush Space Initiative
Reaction continues to pour in from around the nation and the world. (See SpaceToday.Net.)

A few notable commentaries:

Mark Whittington says it's about time we pick up where we left off thirty years ago.

Rand Simberg urges a 'Space Program for the Rest of Us'.

Frank Sietzen and Keith Cowing report on 'The inside story of President Bush's space initiative. Part 1 of 3'. This is a very interesting and revealing report. The President expressed a strong awareness of the importance of developing an effective space strategy:

"Bush told his aides the outcome of the processes needed to mean something. It could not be just a stunt or some large spending effort. His new space vision had to emphasize scientific, technological, economic and social importance."
Spirit is on a Roll.
The Rover rolled off the lander this morning and is on the Martian surface. Here is today's JPL press release.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

"Human beings are headed into the cosmos."
President Bush gave his long awaited space policy speech this afternoon at NASA HQ. Here is the transcript (PDF). A White House news release and a background sheet were released to accompany the speech.

Some highlights:

-Complete ISS and meet international commitments.

-Return Shuttle to flight, then retire it in 2010.

-New spacecraft, the 'Crew Exploration Vehicle' to begin (unmanned) testing in 2008.

-Return to Moon between 2015-2020. (This was a little confusing. He first said return to the Moon by 2020, but then said crews would start heading there in 2015.)

-Use of the Moon's environment, lighter gravity and resources to head "to Mars and to worlds beyond".

-Establishing a commission chaired by former Air Force Secretary Pete Aldridge to define implementing the plan.

More details, analysis & opinion sure to come.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

T-One Day and Counting...
...until the President's Wednesday 3 PM EST speech at NASA HQ, and the Web and Blogosphere are humming with opinion, analysis and speculation. A few highlights:

Glenn Reynolds sees W taking a 'cowboy' approach that would be effective, while offending the politically correct crowd.

Rand Simberg is supportive of the idea, but more skeptical that it is what W has in mind.

Homer Hickam weighs in in the WSJ.

Leonard David shares the views of a number of lunar experts at

And the ever prolific Jeff Foust provides several timely analyses at this week's Space Review (including a highly recommended piece by Rick Tumlinson, of the Space Frontier Foundation), a new Space Politics blog, and continually updating links to news & views on the upcoming policy announcement, Spirit on Mars & other news at his SpaceToday.Net.
Prayers are asked for Father Benedict Groeschel, ...
the well-known Franciscan friar who appears on EWTN, who was critically injured in an accident in Orlando, Florida.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Like-minded Blogging Communities
I've decided to register with a couple of blogging communities, St. Blog's Parish and Blogs for Bush. Part of the fun of the Blogosphere is in joining with others with whom one shares common values. Being like-minded doesn't mean unanimity on every topic, and lively discussions can be read.

Some brief background: I'm a middle-aged guy employed in the space industry, working on the Hubble Space Telescope. Of course, all opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer or any other organization I'm affiliated with.

Prior to my current residence in the Maryland suburbs of DC, I lived in Mountain View, CA for 17 years and grew up near Philadelphia. (Go Eagles!)

Here is my local parish. I'm actively involved in space policy advocacy, prolife activities, and sometimes participate in political campaigns.

I launched this blog last July, hopefully raising and connecting ideas that challenged the conventional wisdom. Being a somewhat busy guy with a day job and slow typing fingers, I don't get to blog on every topic or with the depth I would like, nor am I as prolific as some of the bloggers I read. (I'm very thankful for hyperlinks, which allow me to save time explaining every point.) When I get the time, I hope to improve the site, adding more links, a working comment capability etc.

In the meantime, I'll have fun sharing my thoughts and upsetting the conventional wisdom whenever I get the time.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

The Big Announcement Next Week?
One person who apparently sees a future in space is President Bush, and if the reports from UPI and Reuters are accurate, we'll be hearing specifics real soon.
Bloggers Debate Space
Mark Shea (Catholic and Enjoying It!) has provoked a lively discussion with his post 'Just to be clear' (actually continuing an earlier thread) on the future in space. He says there isn't any.

My response (about #22 down the comments thread) follows:

"Any human enterprise can be undertaken for legitimate or flawed reasons, and I'll grant that some in the space community may frame their vision in excessively utopian terms. However, opening a new frontier is not a foolish or 'pseudo-eschatological' endeavor.

I believe that God has given us the vision and intellect to do great things for good reason.

We are becoming more aware that an abundance of resources and solar energy exist in the Solar System. The asteroids in particular contain a variety of metals and other resources that will become increasingly accessible in future decades.

As for the practicality, look for the upstart entrepreneurs to begin to undercut the government/industry establishment in lowering the cost of getting into space. There is some serious money starting to back these enterprises, and there may be some interesting news this year.

A civilization that makes investment and sacrifice to open a frontier to provide for future generations is very consistent with a culture of life. This vision is preferable to the pessimistic, static vision of "limits to growth" that has been used to justify coercive anti-life population control policies in recent decades.

Yes, we will take our sinfulness with us when we settle other worlds. But the Church was an active participant in the migration to new frontiers on this planet in human history, and will respond to the call to be with those who settle future frontiers."

UPDATE: Looks like Mark has started another thread this evening on the same theme, if anyone wants to join in.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Star of Wonder
It is rather appropriate that on this weekend of close-up probing of a comet and of the surface of Mars, we observe the feast of the Epiphany, where the Magi's study of the heavens led them to Our Savior.
First pictures...
...from Spirit are shown here at the official JPL/NASA website. The terrain appears rather flat, but is scientifically interesting because Gusev Crater appears to possibly be an ancient lakebed. is maintaining a list of links to the enormous number of news reports on the current Mars exploration activities.
"Base petal down"
Call indicates Spirit has landed right-side-up. Simplifies further set-up activities. Solar array deployment is critical. NASA TV signing off coverage until 12:30 AM EST news conference. Continuing mission updates can be read by refreshing this SpaceflightNow.Com page.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Spirit Arrives at Mars' Gusev Crater
(Monitoring NASA TV on cable.) Entry, parachute deploy and retro fire all successful. Initial signal detected upon landing, then lost. Not totally unexpected during several minutes of bouncing. Vehicle has probably come to rest by now. JPL continuing analysis to detect data. JUST Re-ACQUIRED! Joy in JPL control room! Signal is strong. Carrier in lock via Goldstone.
Rep. Hall Finds a New Home
Ralph Hall, well respected prolife & prospace congressman from Texas, has switched parties from Democrat to Republican. The reality-challenged Democratic Party continues to isolate or drive away good leaders like Mr. Hall, Zel Miller of Georgia and the late great Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. Many ordinary Americans have also experienced their party losing touch with their values. I'm one of those proud to call myself a former Democrat.

Friday, January 02, 2004

Stardust Encounters Comet Wild 2
Closest approach occurred this afternoon. An impressive image of the comet's nucleus has been released. A collection of dust particle samples will be returned to Earth in 2004.
The Power of the Blog
It is fitting that my first blogging of 2004 is about... blogging. USA Today describes the impact of the Blogosphere on politics in this article.